Thursday, December 02, 2004

Yes, Virginia, There Was a Santa Claus... least for Dallas-Ft. Worth's inefficient airlines, as Virginia Postrel found out when she tried to book a flight on Southwest Airlines to Philadelphia:

Southwest is based at Love Field, not far from downtown Dallas. But it cannot fly from Dallas to Philadelphia - or Chicago or Las Vegas or Los Angeles or Baltimore-Washington or a host of other popular destinations - without violating federal law.

...most people outside Dallas have no idea of this peculiar restriction. The so-called Wright Amendment, named for the longtime congressman from Fort Worth, Jim Wright, was intended to protect the newly built Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. What it did was limit not the amount of traffic at Love Field (local rules take care of that) but where the airplanes could fly. It is a costly example of protectionist legislation.

In mid-November, Southwest called for the repeal of the law, reversing its longtime "passionately neutral" stance and igniting a heated local debate.

Air travelers flooded The Dallas Morning News with pro-repeal letters, while Dallas-Fort Worth airport officials and many local politicians lined up to support the Wright Amendment.

Under that 1979 law, full-size planes may fly from Love Field only to adjacent states, plus Alabama, Mississippi and Kansas, which were added in 1997. (Planes with fewer than 56 seats are exempt.) Anyone wanting to travel somewhere else has to drive another 20 miles to the Dallas-Fort Worth airport and pay the higher prices that American Airlines charges at what industry analysts call its "fortress hub." Both Dallas-Fort Worth and American Airlines support the Wright Amendment.

Although originally enacted to help the fledgling Dallas-Fort Worth airport, the law has outlived that purpose. Today, that airport is one of the world's largest, while Love's capacity is severely limited by its size and location.

"The premise of the Wright Amendment was an infant-industry argument," said Steven A. Morrison, a transportation economist at Northeastern University.

"That's 25 years ago," he said. "That's some infant."

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